James Jones led the Dollarway boys’ junior high basketball team to a runner-up finish in the district tournament following the 2003-04 season — his first year with the program.
This school year, he will take over the district’s senior high girls’ team.
He isn’t expecting the kind of immediate success he found at the junior-high level, but Jones is convinced he can turn around a program that has won just three total games the past three seasons.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get our practice structured,” he said. “We try and have rigorous practices. We try to teach the girls to be fundamentally sound. …
“They’ve won three games in the last three years, so we know it’s going to take some rebuilding. But the talent is there.”
Dollarway finished last season with a 2-18 mark, but the team returns five players who made The Commercial’s All-SEARK girls’ basketball team.
Jayanna Sanders landed on the second team after averaging 18 points and two steals per game as a freshman. Soon-to-be junior Serenity Jenkins earned a third-team nod thanks to 10 points and 15 rebounds a contest. Chandra Haynes (soon-to-be senior), Ty Lever (soon-to-be junior) and Tatiana Phillips (soon-to-be junior) were all named honorable mention.
To complete his rebuilding project, Jones plans to use the same approach he used to turn the junior high boys’ program into a regional powerhouse. Under Jones’ leadership, the program won four conference championships, three district championships and had two of the most successful seasons, in terms of record, in school history (25-2 in 2010-11 and 23-2 in 2012-13).
“I want to be the ‘Fastest 32 Minutes in Sports,’” Jones said of the style he wants to play. “I want us to be defensively sound. I consider myself more of a defensive coach, because I believe if you shut people down, you have a good chance of winning the ballgame.
“I want to full-court press and have traps all over the floor. Somebody once called it structured, organized chaos.”
To be able to pull off the “Mike Anderson-Nolan Richardson style,” the Lady Cardinals will need to be in great physical shape. Jones said the team, as of right now, breaks down into two seniors, four juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen, so depth could be an issue.
“We started conditioning in the summer,” Jones said. “We run one mile per practice. … Those who are not conditioned and are not in shape won’t play. That goes for the smallest (players) to the biggest.
“We want to play a full-court game and they are buying into the system.”
Jones, who will also take over this year as senior high girls’ track coach, is hoping for an “exciting style” that is also effective at allowing Dollarway to compete against the top teams in the 8-4A.
“Star City is definitely the top program,” Jones said of the conference. “They are right there with Dumas. Then there’s Monticello and Warren, too.”
One of the top issues Jones saw with last year’s squad was an inability to finish games.
“They couldn’t finish the 4th quarter,” he said. “Part of that is knowing how to win. They have had very little success the past few seasons.
“It takes some time to develop that winning mentality.”
Jones knows it will take lots of hard work to see the fruits of his labor, but in his 10 years leading the junior high boys’ program, he also knows what it looks like when that hard work pays off.
“It’s not going to come over night,” he said, “but I think we can be better than last year.”